Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sunday In My City - 9th Annual George Street Challenge, Worcester, MA

Unknown Mami hosts a wonderful feature called Sunday In My City, where you share something that's going on in your area each Sunday - it's lots of fun! If you haven't already, head on over to her place to check out everyone who's participating this week....and maybe share something about your Sunday!

I was very excited about sharing this Sunday with you all... I figured as lovely as they are, you may think that my area is all about small New England towns and hiking trails, but the fact is I live about a quarter mile from the second largest city in New England, right behind Boston. At least I think it is...Worcester, MA and Providence, RI keep swapping the "2nd largest" title back and forth.

Worcester has had it's struggles economically, and sometimes it gets a reputation that I don't really think it deserves. Naturally, in a city this size, there will be crime, but Worcester is surprisingly just doesn't always look that way. It tends to have that "run down" look. However, rich in history, architecture, culture and diversity, to me Worcester is a diamond in the rough. It is a city of many hidden treasures, and host to some really cool events.

This is one of them.....

The Annual George Street Challenge

Unless you are a cyclist, you probably have never heard of Major Taylor, but he lived in Worcester, moving here in 1895, just as he began to make his mark on the world. Marshall W. "Major" Taylor was not only a champion cyclist, but a man way ahead of his time, an African-American fighting for social equality for himself as well as others less fortunate, while promoting athletics and the virtues of healthy, clean living. You can read all about him here, and if you're lucky enough to get your hands on one there are a couple good books about him.

As part of his training regiment just before the turn of the century in 1899, he would ride his bike up George Street, a narrow one-way off of the north end of Main Street. My daughter calls it "The Steep Road" - 500 feet long, average grade about 17.5%. Several years ago, cycling enthusiasts and businesses began this event. One at a time, 100 to 150 riders attempt to ride up George Street, while their families, friends and some of us locals cheer them on. Here are some shots of this year's event....did I mention it takes place in July? Temperatures usually run from about 85 - 90+ degrees F, and we have this evil thing called "humidity" should be a four-letter word, if you ask me.

But it doesn't stop these amazing athletes from accepting the challenge....

This is the northern section of Main Street....

Here's the starting line, atthe bottom of George Street...

Here's one of the many cyclists who can't see the whole street here, just the very bottom.

A little better view of the curves slightly so you can't quite see the top...but you get the idea!

Here's the view down from maybe a quarter of the way up....

I have some good hills near where I live, and I can honestly say, I could make it this far...

Which isn't really that's the view from about a third of the way up...

I'll tell you, some of these people make it look easy.

Here are some crowd favorites!

The finish line is still out of view here, but this family did indeed make it!

We moved up a bit further and cheered on several more participants. Each rider's name is announced, as well as where they're from - locals, students at one of the many colleges in Worcester, and visitors from Wisconsin, California, Chicago, to name a few.

Here's the view from about two-thirds of the way, not from the top yet! If you look closely you can make out a participant taking off at the bottom...

Here he is about a third of the way up...

And maybe half way here...

Everyone gets cheered on - this rider did great, but that last twenty or thirty feet is almost a heartbreak hill of sorts, and he slowed down quite a bit. Another cyclist jumped out and walked alongside him, encouraging him.....

I don't know if they new eachother or not, but everyone supports eachother. There's no real air of "winning", it's really more like 150 people each committing to a personal challenge.

Here he is, about a foot from the finish line! He made it and, like everyone else, got a big round of applause.

Not everyone made it this day, but just accepting this challenge makes you a winner.

It was tough enough walking it....hats off to everyone who tried to ride it!

Major Taylor fought his own battle, and went on to become a well-respected cycling champion. At the age of 32, he retired from racing. The following years were tough ones. After several failed business attempts and a failed marriage, he moved to Chicago. He died in 1932 at the age of 53, a poor man, and was buried in an unmarked grave. Eventually a group of cycling enthusiasts had his body exhumed and interred in his final resting place. His old hometown of Worcester has also started to give him the recognition he deserves, naming one of the main streets after him - Major Taylor Boulevard - and dedicating a beautiful memorial to him at the library (of course, I forgot to go snap a photo, but I will in the near future....) and the Major Taylor Association, formed by a group of Worcester citizens in honor of Major Taylor.

Thanks for stopping by! Hope you enjoyed your visit! The George Street Challenge takes place every July...if you're ever in the area, be sure to stop by and cheer everyone on...or better yet...BRING YOUR BIKE!!!!!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sunday In My City - Moore State Park, Paxton

Unknown Mami hosts a great feature called Sunday in My City, where you share with the world what's going on in your city each Sunday. I have had so much fun participating as well as catching a glimpse into other bloggers' Sundays!

This Sunday, my little one (who has her first loose tooth!) and I went for yet another hike. This time we traveled to our neighboring town of Paxton, Massachusetts to visit Moore State Park, a lovely and serene 400-acre piece of conservation land.

We passed through Paxton Center, another typical New England town center. Here's the church (I show you a lot of these, don't I? I have a thing for steeples, I guess!)

And just beyond the church is the town hall...

A bit further down the road is the entrance to today's destination...

Moore State Park...and I must say that so far this has been my favorite place to hike/walk. Of course, the fact that it was a gorgeous warm but breezy day helped, but the park is beautifully maintained without feeling too "civilized". It was one of the most serene and glorious places I have visited.

You start out near a beautiful meadow near the parking lot...

Moore State Park is a bit different than the trails we hiked last week in that our four-legged friends are welcome!

The paved road that leads from the parking area is open to pedestrians and bicyclists only, and is a pretty gentle and shady hike.

A good thing when you're accompanied by a five year-old with a loose tooth! I don't recall them being so debilitating....

I don't think I captured it on film, but this road is lined with rhododendron bushes - you can bet I'll be back next spring when they're in bloom! Must be gorgeous!

There's lots of greenery though, like these beautiful ferns....

It took me 27 shots before this shy butterfly showed me her pretty!

We passed another smaller meadow, framed by one of the ubiquitous stone walls that criss-cross the New England landscape.

Not far from the entrance is a pretty pond, Eames Pond...

And in the distance we came upon this sight...

Aptly named "Enchanta Bridge", it turned out to be a beautiful spot to sit and rest, gazing out over the tranquil pond....


The water runs below it into a stream - this is the view from behind as we moved along...

Just around the bend we spotted another structure, the Old Sawmill....

On the way, some "wild animals" made their way over to say hello....

"Quack! Quack!"

The Old Sawmill was pretty cool...

Other than a brief thunderstorm the other day, we haven't had much rainfall so the water hasn't risen high enough to pour over the dam more than a trickle...

Here's the side...the water would normally flow right underneath the building...

And here's the view from behind....

There were several other trails nearby, as well as an orchard and some historic buildings, but we had to head home, so we said goodbye to Moore State Park.

But we'll be back!

Thanks for joining us on our hike! I'm pretty excited about next Sunday in My City...first of all, it will actually be in a city for a change (not that there's anything wrong with woods and hiking and wildlife, but I do live a stone's throw from the second largest city in New England...) and there is a really cool event taking place that I hope to share with you! It might be a bit of a major challenge ( <- Hint, hint....) to capture it on film, but I'll give it my best!

What's happening in your neck of the woods this fine Sunday? Hope you pop on over to Unknown Mami and join the fun!

Happy Sunday to all!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Saturday Splurge - Grilled Spiced Peaches with Orange-Vanilla Mascarpone

"You had me at mascarpone....."

I love mascarpone. I love Italian, I love cream cheese, I love tiramisu. I love that cannoli place near me that makes mascarpone-filled cannoli.

I thought of those delectable things as I waited my turn at the deli today, and glanced over into the cheese case. Before I knew it, a cute little package of mascarpone had stowed away in my shopping cart. Over in produce, I noticed it as it winked at me and pointed to some beautiful peaches.

Hmmm...well, okay. You can come home with me. Peaches have to be healthier than deep-fried cannoli shells sprinkled with powdered sugar and drizzled with chocolate, right?

So, here's what I had for dinner might want to make this for dessert, but frankly it was so hot and humid today (again) that I wasn't hungry enough for actual dinner, so I skipped right to dessert. I mean, there's ALWAYS room for dessert...especially when you don't eat your dinner.

Along with peaches, you'll need some mascarpone, an orange (or a tbsp of orange zest and maybe 1/4 cup or so of orange juice) and some honey.

And ....

...some brown sugar, ground allspice, ground ginger and a vanilla bean pod. (Which I was very excited about....first time I've ever used one!)

Why do I not have a picture of this part?

Anyway, cut around the peaches to cut them into halves. Twist gently but firmly and they should come apart, leaving the pit in one side. Carefully pry that out.

Zest the orange and set the orange zest aside. (That sounds strangely redundant, but I can't think of another word for orange zest....or even just zest)

Squeeze the juice into a bowl and add the brown sugar, allspice and ginger. Place the peaches into a bowl or, better yet, plastic zipper-type bag and pour the orange juice mixture over them. Seal and let them marinate a bit - just a few minutes will do!

Meanwhile, you can make the topping. Whip together the mascarpone, orange zest and a couple teaspoons of honey. Split the vanilla pod and scrape the inside with a sharp knife. Blend that into the mascarpone. Cover and refrigerate it.

Lightly oil your grill and preheat it to medium. Place the peaches, cut side down, on the grill. Cover and grill about three minutes, then flip them and grill the skin side another 3 to 4 minutes.

If you sampled that orange juice marinade (like I did) you'll notice it's pretty spicy! The spice flavors are really subtle once the peaches are grilled, but it smells divine.

To serve, arrange one half peach on a plate, top with a dollop of mascarpone and garnish with some fresh berries.

There you have it! A lovely dessert! Or you can eat this, then take another grilled peach half, dip it in more mascarpone topping and call it dinner on a hot summer night!

Grilled Spiced Peaches with Orange-Vanilla Mascarpone

2 large firm peaches

1 large orange

2 tbsp brown sugar

1/2 tsp ground allspice

1/2 tsp ground ginger

6 oz. mascarpone cheese

2 tsp honey (or to taste)*

1 or 1/2 vanilla pod

1 cup berries for garnish (blueberries, raspberries, black raspberries or any combination)

*For a slightly firmer and sweeter mascarpone topping, add about 1/2 cup of confectioner's sugar and beat with an electric mixer

Directions press "ENTER" after each step

Add Sections

Cut peaches in half, twisting to separate halves and remove pit.

Grate about 1 tbsp of orange zest and set aside; squeeze the juice from the orange into a bowl.

Add brown sugar, allspice and ginger to the orange juice and mix together. Place peaches into large Ziploc bag and pour orange juice mixture over peaches. Seal bag, tossing to coat peaches evenly with mixture.

Place mascarpone in a bowl. Split vanilla pod with a sharp knife and scrape the inside - add to the mascarpone and discard pod. Add orange zest and honey and combine well. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Preheat lightly oiled grill to medium heat. Place peach halves, cut side down, onto grill and close cover. Grill about 3 minutes or until you get good grill marks. Flip over and grill skin side another 3 minutes or so. Remove from grill.

To serve, place one peach half on plate and top with a dollop of mascarpone filling. Garnish with berries and serve.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Lovely Leftovers - Mediterranean Fish Tacos

The other night, I was in the mood for fish and in the mood for something "Mediterranean"...tomatoes, basil, mint, kalamata olives (which I suddenly have found myself suddenly loving after despising for many, many years...), so I stopped by the local fish market and splurged on some halibut and set off to find a recipe that would transport me to Greece or Italy.

While I went back and forth between creating a recipe or finding the right one, I decided to play around with a couple ideas I had...

First, a bulb of fennel had been sitting in my refrigerator for almost too long, and I needed to do something with it. I decided to roast it with some other veggies, add some chopped tomatoes and seasonings and call it a Mediterranean salsa of sorts....

I love when experiments turn out successful!

The end result was Roasted Fennel and Tomato Salsa. I roasted fennel, onions, garlic and red pepper, and mixed it with fresh tomatoes. You could leave everything raw, too, or you could roast the tomatoes. But I love the sweetness of roasted fennel and onions, but not mushy overcooked tomatoes, so I went half and half. This really came out well! I can see it as a side for fish or chicken, or even as a dip for toasted pita wedges or a bruschetta topping.

Next up was something to make with this gorgeous bunch of fresh mint I bought at Davidian Farms - it called to me from between the cilantro and parsley. I was getting ideas for uses for my new "salsa" so I decided to make this with half the mint...

Half mint, half parsley, garlic, shallot, toasted walnuts and olive oil. I honestly don't eat a lot of mint, but I have found that I enjoy it.

So, since I spent so much time being creative with my condiments, I was running out of ideas for my fish dinner. I ended up finding a perfectly lovely halibut recipe on Allrecipes, Easy Mediterranean Fish...halibut baked in foil packets with tomatoes, onions, kalamata olives, capers and seasonings. It was DELICIOUS!!!!

In the background is another fabulous side dish from AR, Herbed Greek Roasted Potatoes with Feta Cheese. Oh, my! I highly recommend that one!

So, I had leftover halibut (that they don't exactly give away these days, so you KNOW there was no way the dogs were getting their chops on this one) and a couple of interesting condiments. Whatever shall I do?

How about Mediterranean Fish Tacos? After all, when you think Mediterranean, you think tacos, right?

If I was the kind of girl who planned ahead, I would have had some nice sundried tomato and basil wraps to use, but I used plain old flour tortillas, warmed slightly in the microwave. A little reheated fish, along with the toppings, some Roasted Fennel and Tomato Salsa and a dribble of Zesty Mint Pesto....

Fold it over and enjoy!

I totally forgot feta cheese! I meant to add some, but I just couldn't restrain myself any further! These were really, REALLY tasty! So good that I might not wait for leftover fish to have them again!

And my two new concoctions have lots of promise...I'm planning on using the pesto on some pasta, a marinade and to toss some roasted potatoes in. The salsa will be a great side to chicken, fish or maybe I'll do that bruschetta type appy I was thinking of. Maybe even use it - or both - on some funky new pizza!